Monday, August 06, 2007

The Face I Fear

Although Anthony Hopkins' is very scary in the classic serial killer movie Silence of the Lambs, it is his role as Mr. James Stevens in the film The Remains of the Day that scares me more.

For starters, the movie is a poor representation of the great Booker prize winning novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day is probably my favorite book of all time.

In the story James Stevens an English butler takes a week long road trip of personal reflection on his days of service, particularly in the 1930s over a large mansion to the service of Lord Darlington.

While the story sounds relatively uninteresting, the well written story plays out masterfully and with power. Stevens for the first time evaluates his life and relationships. In his life his overarching goal was to be a great butler, elevating the status of his service and commitment to his lord.

Yet, in retrospect and simple evaluation his dedication to his work and honor in the work force not only denied him the opportunities to experience love, commitment, and honesty. It also denied that experience to those around him. And when all is accounted, his most dedicated service is deemed little by the events that surround his service.

So I often I make personal sacrifices to be successful in this-that-or-the-other but for who or what am I making these sacrifices, and so regularly I don't feel like I'm even beginning to measure up in any aspect of my life.

I think one of the lessons I learn from Mr. Stevens (the butler) in The Remains of the Day, is that we don't just have influence from working hard, a workaholic might get a lot done, but getting a lot done is an unsatisfactory end goal to me. It's like the Egyptians who dedicated their whole lives to prepare monuments for their death. Even if I could garner eighth wonder status for the monuments I built in my lifetime I wouldn't care.

Instead, Mr. Stevens' error could easily become my own. Stevens failed to connect personally with those around him. I don't know if it's a faulty dream, but when I see what real influence and success is, it involves people and relationship. I've talked about this before, even in terms of the best Robin Williams' roles. We connect with these roles were influence is made not in building, working, and painful self-promotion and sacrifice, rather influence occurs when we allow our lives to deeply intersect the lives of others.

At the same time while I so deeply value community, I often feel very alone--so very alone. I shouldn't feel alone, yet the feelings creeps up in so many ways, and beyond feeling alone I feel this inner-grumbling that says I'm wasting time, that there is only so much day left to be had.

It is the face of lost time and a wasted life that I see in the story of Stevens in The Remains of the Day. And it is that face that I fear.

Remains of the Day photo above from movie screenshots blog.

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Terence Towles Canote said...

Well said! I think Remains of the Day has a good message for all of us.

Anonymous said...

The book and film are both superb. And the message is so wrenching. I can totally understand your feelings. I have the same ones at times.

Sam Brooks said...

I love this movie, and I especially love the chemistry between the two leads.